Behold the first election-year bombshell: Barack Obama's White House will announce this morning that it will unilaterally begin granting work permits to as many as 800,000 illegal immigrants who arrived in the United States as children, graduated from high school, and stayed out of trouble with the law. He's essentially implemented the much-debated DREAM Act, only without the hassle of all that voting in Congress. He should have done this with health care!

According to the Associated Press, the new policy will grant immunity from deportation to "illegal immigrants [who] were brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED, or served in the military." It will also allow them to apply for a two-year work permit that can be repeatedly renewed if they stay out of trouble.

Although Obama has already attempted to move his administration's immigration policy in this direction by urging U.S. Attorneys to use "prosecutorial discretion" when pursuing deportation cases—in other words, don't bother deporting kids who aren't doing anything wrong—this shift is formal and massive. Bringing 800,000 people out of the shadows and removing the stigma and fear of being undocumented is no small thing. Too bad they can't vote! Maybe their friends and neighbors can?

Prepare for a lot of talk of "subverting the democratic process" from Republican legislators. Even ones who have supported the DREAM Act will surely oppose Obama's bypassing Congress.

One noted illegal immigrant and DREAM Act supporter who won't be affected by the policy shift is Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Jose Antonio Vargas, who came out in the New York Times Magazine one year ago as an undocumented alien. As it happens, Vargas has a piece in this week's Time magazine about how he's managed to avoid deportation despite the notoriety of his case. Unfortunately, at 31 years old, he was born about four months too early to take advantage of Obama's largesse.

[Image via Getty]